Ruling party risks split over candidate for Bangkok governor election 

A Thai man holding his child puts his ballot into a box at a polling station as residents vote for a new Bangkok governor in Thailand’s capital on March 3, 2013. Bangkok residents went to the polls to elect a governor in a to-the-wire fight for city hall which has re-opened Thailand’s festering political divisions.(Photo by PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL / AFP)

Already hit by an anti-establishment uprising, Thailand’s ruling Palang Pracharath Party is now facing a potential revolt from within as it chooses a candidate for the Bangkok governor election.

Three people are reportedly vying for the role, in the belief that running for the core coalition party will boost their chances of being elected later this year. The ruling party topped Bangkok in the 2019 election, winning 12 of the 30 MP seats on offer.

The first Palang Pracharath gubernatorial hopeful is Taya Teepsuwan, wife of Education Minister and deputy party leader Nataphol Teepsuwan – a key figure in securing the party’s political base in the capital.

Taya is a former deputy Bangkok governor who was also a core member of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), whose protests spurred the ouster of elected premier Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.

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The second hopeful is former national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda. Palang Pracharat, as well as its coalition partners Bhumjaithai and the Democrats, tried to woo the top cop before he retired on September 30.

Chakthip revealed late last year that he was thinking of joining the gubernatorial race and had several policies in mind.

Though he is wavering over whether to run as an independent or for a party, he is known to be close to Palang Pracharath leader, Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan.

The former police chief has reportedly received strong backing from Prawit and another influential party figure, Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao.

The third man tipped to run under Palang Pracharath’s banner is incumbent Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang. This former deputy chief of police reportedly enjoyed close ties with the ruling party back when Prayut Chan-o-cha was junta leader.

Aswin was promoted from deputy governor by the junta leader when MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra was removed as Bangkok governor in 2016. Aswin is the first police officer in history to hold this position.

Fight for nomination

Of the three candidates, Taya has been loudest, publicly declaring via her husband that she wants to run as Palang Pracharath’s candidate.

In comparison, Chakthip set up a Facebook page only this month to signal his first step into politics, while Aswin has not yet said whether he will run or step aside for the former police chief.

Meanwhile, Taya’s husband Nataphol has made no secret that his wife enjoys his complete support, and has even met Prawit to seek his permission for her to run.

Nataphol also reportedly met six Palang Pracharath Bangkok MPs twice last month and again last week to secure their backing. He plans to introduce Taya as a contender next month, party sources say. The remaining six Bangkok MPs have yet to voice their support for Taya.

The minister has also reportedly threatened to leave the party if it does not back his wife’s nomination.

“I will propose my wife’s nomination to party executives soon. If she is turned down or if the party chooses Chakthip, I will quit the party’s executive committee and help her run as an independent candidate,” the education minister was quoted as saying.

“Since PM Prayut is not going to run in the next general election, and I don’t know if Palang Pracharath will even exist at that point, I will look to establish a new political party,” Nataphol warned.

All this leaves Prawit with a dilemma: how to choose between Taya, Chakthip and Aswin without hurting party unity.

Popular ex-police chief Chakthip gunning to become Bangkok governor

Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda has never held a political post let alone contested for one. Yet, his entry in the upcoming Bangkok governor’s race – if confirmed – will send a chill down the spines of any seasoned politician interested in contesting the same election.

Answer in sight

However, it appears that Prawit may have found the right tool to defuse this timebomb.

Despite declaring that the party’s executive committee had the final say, Prawit invoked his leadership to announce the party may not register any Bangkok governor candidates. It used the same tactic in last year’s Provincial Administration Organisation (PAO) elections, to comply with a law that bans incumbent political officials, MPs, senators or government appointees from campaigning for or obstructing any local election candidate.

“This is a wise decision as it may reduce chances of an internal conflict and allow [Palang Pracharath] party factions to freely support their own candidates,” said Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

Observers are convinced that Palang Pracharath will not be split by the conflict over candidates as Prawit has shown strength in keeping order among members since he replaced Uttama Savanayana as leader in June last year.

“Leaving the party now would not be a smart option,” commented Yuthaporn. “First, quitting the party will result in losing their MP status, and second, there is no sign a general election will be held soon.”

Unity will pay

Observers also point out that Taya and Chakthip risk losing if they run as independent candidates since they would split the pro-government vote and leave the way open for another candidate.

However, Yuthaporn believes the key factor governing their chances is the level of unity among the pro-democracy opposition camp.

If the pro-democracy camp comprising Pheu Thai, Kao Klai (Move Forward) and the Progressive Movement each register separate candidates, Palang Pracharath will likely benefit from the split vote.

Kao Klai and the Progressive Movement are reincarnations of the now-defunct Future Forward Party that came third in the 2019 general election.

“But if they – [the pro-democracy camp] agree to jointly back [former transport minister] Chadchart Sittipunt as the only candidate, they will definitely win,” Yuthaporn said.

Chadchart, one of Pheu Thai Party’s prime ministerial candidates, quit the opposition party in 2019 and announced he would run for Bangkok governor as an independent candidate.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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